Farm leaders have condemned the actions of animal rights activists who have started to publish the details of farmers who they claim are ready to take part in a badger cull in Devon.
The Stop the Cull group has used its Facebook page to publish the details of two farms which it says will be involved in a cull. It promised to reveal more names in the coming days.
The NFU has condemned the action. Leaking information which could lead to farming families being targeted is reprehensible, it says.
The list was also leaked to the Badger Trust by an anonymous source, but the trust said it had handed its copy to the police, which is now investigating.
A union spokesman said: “As far as we are aware, the list that has been leaked appears to have been compiled by a third party based on speculation and assumption. Circulating or threatening to publish a list like this is hugely irresponsible and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.
“We would question the motives of anyone considering publishing this information, as doing so can only have one possible purpose – to encourage the harassment of farmers and their families.”
The spokesman said the NFU understood that not everyone agreed with the policy, but badger culls were being carried out legally and lawfully in specific areas where bovine TB was endemic.
Farmers across the South West have been preparing ahead of the eagerly anticipated roll-out of the badger cull following trials in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset.
However, Natural England is yet to grant any licenses, and tenants on the National Trust estate will be prohibited from taking part.
According to a spokesman for Natural England, it has received 29 applications or expressions of interest, predominantly in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.
There were also a few applications made in Wiltshire, the West Midlands and Cheshire. However, there was no timescale on when any licenses may be granted.
“It’s just a case of being prepared,” said David George at NFU South West. “The aspiration is to see the cull rolled out in this part of the world, but it is organised by companies that are separate to the NFU and I think we will be kept guessing as to timescale. Farmers are doing their part, with extra restrictions that will be quite debilitating to businesses, so we need to get on and tackle the disease in wildlife.”
Alex Raeder at the National Trust said tenants would not be allowed to take part in the cull. “We want to see the outcome of the original pilots before we make any decision about engaging with the cull.” Now in their fourth year, cull results may be available later in 2016. “We need to see the effect they have had on bovine TB – it really depends on the nature of that information. We have to look at the science.”